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Highlights from our Annual Meeting in Stellenbosch, South Africa

Introduction: 2023 Annual Meeting

Launched in June 2022, the Early Childhood Regional Networks Fund (ECRN Fund) is a philanthropic initiative that supports strong, resilient and representative networks to advance early childhood development. If you want to learn more about the ECRN Fund, check out the “Our Work” page.
Each year, we bring together our partners of regional and global networks, donors within and outside of the ECRN Fund, and other key sector stakeholders to exchange, connect, and learn together during our Annual Meeting.
This year we held our Annual Meeting in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in coordination with Harnessing Global Data to Advance Young Children’s Learning and Development that works to build research capacity and increase the use of data for decision-making to advance early childhood.

Objectives of the Annual Meeting 

  • Explore how to strengthen a network approach to advancing early childhood outcomes. Through various sessions, we aimed to deepen our understanding of the unique role that early childhood networks play to catalyse and facilitate sector learning, development and action through network mechanisms and the role and importance of networks in advancing development outcomes.
  • Generate ideas to tackle two cross-cutting ECD themes: During thematic workshops, participants outlined ideas and discussed how ECD networks can drive the agenda forward on two themes: male engagement in early childhood, and young children in crisis.

Getting into the ‘network mindset’

During the morning of Day 1, participants got into the ‘network mindset’ and explored the crucial role ECD networks play as  the backbone of the early childhood field.
Key insights from the speakers
David Harrison, Chief Executive Officer at DG Murray Trust, spoke about the power and potential of networks, stressing that networks have the power to find alignment across the sector and build “coalitions of the willing” to influence global and regional policies. Click on the slide to view David’s presentation.
Elizabeth Lule, Executive Director at ECDAN, spoke about the global trends in the ECD field and called on global and regional networks to work together to:
  • Lift the voices of young children and their caregivers by building public demand for better policies and providing more resources to drive the ECD agenda;
  • Leverage existing financing models, campaigns, and initiatives and collaborate effectively    by connecting and aligning partners, sharing knowledge and good practice, and advocating  for better policies, more resources and accountability for results;
  • Invest in advocacy and increase financing to strengthen systems and improve policies &  practices.
Amanda Welsh from Network Impact gave an overview of what it takes for ECD networks to reach their goals and achieve impact through network concepts and capacities. To make tangible these network concepts, each regional network presented how this translates to their work. For example:
  • Africa Early Childhood Network (AfECN) elevated early childhood across the region by connecting  education, health and child protection departments to support integrated ECD programming at the African Union.
  • Arab Network for Early Childhood Development (ANECD) held a first-ever Regional Forum to discuss and align early childhood development interventions at regional level, which brought in diverse representation from 14 Arab countries, including ministries of  health, education and social services.
  • Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) organized a learning forum to  explore how members learn from  each other in order to design future programming that  strengthen national networks and ARNEC’s collective ability  to drive  change. As a result of  the forum, both country-level and regional-level commitments were  made to increase ARNEC’s strategic focus, including climate campaigns.
  • International Step by Step Association (ISSA) strengthened a thematic learning community  around the Primokiz methodology, with a total of 45 municipalities in 6 countries able to  develop data-driven strategies for identifying and delivering meaningful services to young  children and their families.
Network Impact is currently supporting regional ECD networks to co-develop a framework and tools that explore network health and capacity, and how those core facets of network development relate to impact on the ground for young children, which was  workshopped collectively during the Annual Meeting. Click on the slide to view Amanda’s presentation.

Thematic Workshops: Deep dives into two cross-cutting issues

The ECRN Fund has just launched two new thematic funding streams: Male Engagement in Early Childhood, and Young Children in Crisis, and the Annual Meeting was the first opportunity to dive into these themes together. The thematic workshops were designed to generate tangible ideas for how ECD networks can catalase, strengthen and promote approaches on these themes, either individually or collectively.

Thematic Workshop 1: Fatherhood & Male Engagement in Early Childhood

Simone Gregor, ECD lead at Heartlines introduced why male involvement in early childhood is critical for the development of the child, which leads to improved mental health and cognitive development and violence reduction in the household.  Networks are well-positioned to improve, diffuse and adapt existing interventions to effectively reach and engage more fathers.
As part of the session design, participants identified problems and network solutions. For example:
Problem (1)
Disengagement of male caregivers and fathers in early childhood due to gender norms around the traditional role that women play in the family, especially young children.
Network solution (1)
  • Support national networks to overcome traditional gender norms in the society through awareness raising in the early childhood workforce and advocacy/policy change, especially at municipal level.
  • Team up with networks that look beyond ECD. Gender transformation starts in early childhood but continues throughout generations - how can we ensure that we’re all working towards the same end, regardless of the specific age that we are targeting?
  • Work with traditional gate keepers like teachers, workforce, etc. Gate keepers depend on the context and in some regions this might be the church, for instance.
Problem (2)
Lack of family-friendly policies and limited opportunities for fathers to be around because of work requirements and in some cases, work-related migration.
Network solution (2) 
  • Engage the private sector by promoting parental leave for fathers and making the economic case (return on investment).
  • Support regional networks to connect global and regional learnings and efforts and look at best practices and existing solutions.
  • Explore and expand ECD workforce opportunities for men.

Thematic Workshop 2: Young children in crisis

Neil Townsend, Executive Director from Moving Minds Alliance, shared some insights on the barriers and opportunities to ensuring ECD is prioritised in humanitarian preparedness, response and recovery. Among the main barriers, Neil highlighted the centralized and sector-based approach to humanitarian response, the lack of funding to the grassroots, and that systems don´t center children and caregivers during crisis. Neil shared that networks can address these barriers by working together as inter-connected networks, build movements among their grassroots partners and support emerging good practices and test new approaches.
Also during this session participants identified problems and network solutions. For example:
Ineffective interventions and lack of sustained support during protracted crisis. 
Network solution 
  • Look at emerging crisis as examples and invest in building resilient systems by focusing engagement on local players.
  • Explore what networks have done effectively to support crisis and what are the key lessons learnt during crisis (e.g. during earthquake, floods, wars, etc.). Based on these learnings, work on plans for the future so that networks can have the tools to respond quickly.
  • Improve member communication during crisis. What is the best way to get data and engage local member organisations?

What’s Next?

Energized from the discussions and wealth of information shared, we encourage participants to continue to engage and connect beyond the meeting, especially to deepen their own ‘network mindset’ and explore synergies on the two themes discussed.
The ECRN Fund is committed to building opportunities and creating space for greater connection and engagement among ECD networks, donors and actors, so that we contribute to a more collaborative and cohesive ECD agenda for all.

Thank you!

We’d like to thank all participants for their valuable contributions and energy during this two-day meeting, coming from nearly every continent in the world to join us in Stellenbosch. Thanks to the following organisations who joined us in-person:
Arab Network for Early Childhood (ANECD), Africa Early Childhood Network (AfECN), Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC), and International Step by Step Association (ISSA), Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN), The Inter-American Dialogue, Moving Minds Alliance, Network Impact, INTRAC, DG Murray Trust, Grand Challenges Canada, Elma Philanthropies, Heartlines, Porticus and Oak Foundation.
We’d like to extend a big thank you to the team of Harnessing Global Data to Advance Young Children’s Learning and Development, who provided tremendous support and who made this meet possible.
Our Annual Meetings are made possible thanks to the leadership and support of our Steering Committee of partner foundations. Thank you!